Death is the great leveler. But not all people treat death on the same level.

More than half of Americans who died in 2020 were cremated. Burials are in the minority, but tens of thousands of people still opt for it. The decision to opt for cremation or burial can be a challenging one because costs are not clear. 

What are cremation and burial like? What are their different types, and how do they impact costs? How much do memorial markers and services cost? 

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Answer these questions and you can find a respectful and affordable way to treat your loved one’s remains. Here is your quick guide. 

Types of Cremation

When people think of cremation, they think of bodies inside furnaces. This is one common type of cremation. But it is not the only type. 

Liquid cremation is the leading alternative to traditional cremation. A cremation services company mixes water and alkali together and then heats the solution up. It breaks the body down, leaving bone fragments that a family can then scatter. 

India and other countries have traditions of burning bodies on open pyres. This is not common within the United States, though it is legal in certain locations. A family would have to go to an open pyre company in order to cremate the body this way.

Cremation costs vary from location to location. In general, a traditional cremation will cost a few thousand dollars. Some organizations accept bodies for scientific research, and they can cremate remains at no expense.

Most cremation centers charge more for liquid cremation. The equipment for it costs more money than a furnace, and they have to replace the water after each cremation. It can cost more than $3,000 without a memorial service.

Cremation on a pyre requires an extensive amount of wood. This can cost thousands of dollars by itself. Paying for services from a company can cost thousands of more dollars.

Types of Burial

A traditional burial service includes placing a body in a coffin and putting it under six feet of earth. Burial costs for traditional services can total thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands. Yet there are cheaper options.  

Companies offer several types of green burials. A body can be wrapped in a shroud and buried. A burial company can also place a body in a mushroom suit or a tree pod, allowing it to break down and produce plants. 

Some companies will bury cremated remains. They can mix them with concrete and then place the slab in the ocean, letting it form a reef. 

One reason why traditional funerals are so expensive is embalming. Funeral homes preserve a body with expensive chemicals before burying it. Green and water burials do not use preservatives, so a family can save thousands of dollars. 

Green burial costs more money than cremation, but not by much. Someone looking for an inexpensive burial can find one for around $2,000. 

Memorial Markers

A family that opts for cremation or green burial may still pay a lot of money. A memorial marker is a separate expense, and it can cost hundreds of dollars. 

Headstones are the most expensive markers. Companies can rely on templates to make stones, but adding biographical details takes time and resources. Even a small headstone can cost $3,000. 

A wooden cross is a simple and affordable marker. Though it is a Christian symbol, it can go over the grave of a non-Christian person. It can cost only a few dollars to make. 

A family can bury a body under a tree. They can also plant a seed so a tree will grow over a grave. This costs no money, and it creates a positive impact on the environment.

Many cremation ideas involve sprinkling ashes in an important location like a forest or mountain range. This can turn the location into an informal marker. It costs no money to do this, and family members can visit the area to remember the person who passed away.

Memorial Services

Memorial services are another separate and pricey expense. A traditional service gives family members the opportunity to view the body, gather together for eulogies, and travel to the gravesite. Yet a traditional service can cost more than $10,000. 

Skipping the service entirely can help a family save thousands. But it may deny an opportunity for the loved ones of the deceased to mourn for the loss. 

A family can opt for a wake or memorial dinner instead. Loved ones can gather at a house, eat food, and share memories of the person who passed away. The expense may be only a few hundred dollars for the food. 

If a family wants a traditional funeral at less expense, they can limit the number of attendees. A private service for family members may cost only a few thousand dollars. 

A family can also choose to have a service over Zoom. They can be at a funeral home or church while friends and distant relatives watch from their computers. This cuts expenses while allowing others to participate.

Choosing Cremation or Burial

Deciding whether cremation or burial is cheaper can be a little hard. In general, cremation tends to be more affordable than burial.

Yet liquid cremation and cremation on a pyre can cost thousands of dollars. A green burial can be roughly the same price as a traditional cremation in a furnace. 

Buying a headstone and ordering a funeral service can significantly increase expenses. A family can sprinkle ashes near a natural landmark and opt for a small gathering over Zoom. 

There are many ways to memorialize your loved one. Read more memorialization guides by following our coverage.